When the 73rd annual Tony Awards are handed out Sunday, June 9, there will be a couple of strong Iowa connections to two of the most nominated musicals.
The most-honored show, "Hadestown," which has 14 nominations, was directed by Rachel Chavkin, who's married to Davenport Assumption High School alum Jake Heinrichs and spoke to Quad-Cities students last December. And the cast of “Tootsie,” with 11 nominations, includes Clinton, Iowa, native Andy Grotelueschen, who's up for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Musical.
“It's so great,” Grotelueschen, 39, said in a phone interview. “I'm so thrilled, surprised and excited for the entire show. It's great; I love the show. I couldn't be happier or prouder.”
In the David Yazbek (“The Full Monty,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “The Band's Visit”) musical, based on the 1982 Dustin Hoffman film, Grotelueschen plays Jeff, the best friend of protagonist Michael Dorsey, an out-of-work actor who passes himself off as a woman, Dorothy Michaels, to get a part. In the film, Jeff was played by Bill Murray, and unlike the movie, in which Dorothy gets a role on a soap opera, in the musical, she's in a musical.
Where Murray's role “was a deadpan sideline commentator, Grotelueschen's shlubby slacker becomes more integral to the storytelling,” a Hollywood Reporter review said, noting his big number, "Jeff Sums It Up," is “a wickedly sardonic takedown of Michael's heedless foolishness, punctuated by goofy dance breaks that express his mocking delight.”
“The character was expanded quite a lot from the movie,” Grotelueschen said. “I'm the conscience of the story.”
“I do a fair amount of cussing in the show, and my mom, when she saw it in Chicago, she was so proud of herself with the job I'd done,” he said. “She said I was very good, but, 'I'm coming back with your father and a bar of soap to wash your mouth out.'”
When he got the news of his first Tony nomination and called his parents, his mother screamed, he said. Also, he heard from a middle-school drama teacher he hadn't been in touch with since middle school.
Grotelueschen was a theater major at Marquette University and has an MFA from Brown University. He has theater credits that include small roles in the 2012 Roundabout Theatre production of “Cyrano de Bergerac” on Broadway and a 2015 Roundabout production of the musical “Into the Woods” off-Broadway, and playing Toby Belch in an off-Broadway “Twelfth Night” for his own Fiasco Theater.
He got the part in “Tootsie” — which stars Santino Fontana (Greg in TV's “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) — when director Scott Ellis asked him to be part of a 2017 workshop reading in New York. “I thought it was hilarious. I liked the movie,” Grotelueschen said. “It's really special.”
Prizing a 'TEAM' effort
Chavkin is nominated for Best Director of a Musical for “Hadestown,” which is a modernized version of the tale of Greek mythology's Orpheus and Eurydice, based on a 2010 folk opera concept album of the same name by Anais Mitchell.
"Hadestown” recently won six Outer Critics Circle Awards, the most of any show this season, including Outstanding New Broadway Musical.
“The music is just paralyzingly beautiful,” Chavkin said in a recent interview. “The first thing that grabbed me was the tunes, orchestrations and the lyrics — it was all stunning. And then the thing that kept me, she obviously started from a singer/songwriter; she did a huge amount of learning about theater, about storytelling. She has been so incredibly rigorous in her evolution as a dramatic writer.”
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Chavkin, 38, is married to Jake Heinrichs, a Davenport native who’s co-owner of The Lighting Syndicate, a theatrical lighting installation company for Off-Broadway theaters, and a member of The TEAM, a Brooklyn-based theatrical company whose work has been seen all over London and the U.K. Chavkin is founding artistic director.
The TEAM collaboratively creates new work about the experience of living in America, with many plays “obsessed with American history and mythology,” Chavkin said.
She earned her BFA at New York University, where she now serves on the directing faculty at Playwrights Horizons Theater School, and her MFA at Columbia University.
Chavkin's directing credits include Dave Malloy's “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812,” which was on Broadway starring Josh Groban; Arthur Miller’s “The American Clock” at the Old Vic; and Caryl Churchill's “Light Shining in Buckinghamshire” at New York Theatre Workshop.
Chavkin was nominated for a 2017 Tony for Best Director of a Musical for “Natasha.” Chavkin has won three Obie Awards, a Drama Desk Award, multiple Lortel nominations, and the 2017 Smithsonian Award for Ingenuity.
The New York Times called “Hadestown” a “sumptuous, hypnotic and somewhat hyperactive musical,” after a 13-year-road to Broadway.
“The gods, or more likely Ms. Chavkin and her creative team, have saved 'Hadestown' on its way uptown — via Edmonton and London — by turning it into something very much warmer, if not yet ideally warm,” the review said. “The story is clearer, the songs express that story more directly and the larger themes arise from it naturally rather than demanding immediate attention like overeager undergraduates.”
“The productions have been radically different,” Chavkin said, noting on Broadway the show is at the Walter Kerr, the theater that last housed Bruce Springsteen's one-man show.
“The theater, it's so beautiful. The vibe, the audiences have been off the charts,” she said. “It feels like a revival, and speaks to the culture of the show we're tried to make. It feels truly live, truly intimate. There's a big following for the show. The remarkable thing, it's still a mythic quality to the setting, but at the same time, it feels wildly timely in the space.
“There's a huge amount of reference to weather, that the natural world has been radically knocked out of balance,” Chavkin said. “In there is a conversation about industry and capitalism and security. Hadestown in our show is not hell, but rather a place where everyone has enough food, but no one is truly alive.”
Chavkin was in Davenport with her husband around Christmas, and spoke to students at QC Rock Academy.
“I try not to give advice; it would be very presumptuous, but one of the things I will say, if you want to be in New York, you will figure it out,” Chavkin said to them. “If you stay at it long enough, work at it, if you want to make a life, or act all your life, you can do that in Davenport.”
“I was fortunate early on, I disentangled Broadway as the be-all and end-all,” she said. “It's an incredible place to be working, but it's not the only place to be working.”